An Interview with Frank Connolly
In the first part of our interview with Frank Connolly he detailed the response of the Irish news media to what has come to be known as ‘Bertiegate’. The following, second part of the interview discusses more general issues of media reporting and the inherent constraints imposed by the corporate, advertising dependent, structure of mainstream outlets.
MB: We had one particular question we wanted to ask you and that is whether you think there is an inverse relationship between good journalism and journalists who have good relationships with those in big business and in government?
FC: I think that’s another way of putting the famous phrase that journalism is about revealing things that people in power don’t want to have revealed and I think that still is a consistent responsibility of investigative journalism. And where journalism is not questioning the powerful and the rich and those who control society including control of the economic future of society, I think it’s not good journalism. The problem is that there is a wider issue at stake here. One is the convergence of economic interests with media ownership which is very apparent in this country – and that goes into the whole matter of the oil and gas resources that we touched on earlier on. For instance, in the last week (October 2007) Independent Newspapers have published the fact the Providence Resources which is owned, by and large, by Tony O’Reilly and his family, have discovered oil off the southern coast in the Helvic field. In their statement announcing this they have described it as a very important discovery of what they used to call in the Independent ‘black gold’. There is no evidence that there has been a significant find in that field because they haven’t established the pressure at which the oil will flow. Everybody knows there is oil and gas off the Irish coast – particularly off the Atlantic coast. We know it through the Corrib find and through the Dunquin prospect off the south-west coastline. The big issue is how viable and how profitable and how rapid and strong a flow of oil will come from these fields. The technology is now more viable to explore these previously uninviting waters. But here is an example of where a possible attempt has been made, by using control of newspapers, to hype up the share prices of Providence Resources – without having significant proof of the nature of the find. The market price did go up initially after the announcement of ten days or so ago and then settled back down after the markets decided that maybe they didn’t have enough evidence. This happened in the 1980s with Atlantic Resources, also controlled by Tony O’Reilly, where hundreds if not thousands of people lost huge amounts of money by backing a suggestion published in his media organisation that there was a massive find off the southern coast by Atlantic. As it turned out, it never happened. So there is a problem where media ownership converges with very powerful economic interests and in this country it is a particular problem. It’s not exceptional to this country but it is a problem.